Pros and Cons of 10 Types of Energy

This article evaluates benefits and challenges of various energy sources, including solar, nuclear, wind, and more.

Some energy sources are cleaner than others. However, all of them have an impact on the environment. You will be surprised to see that, during the manufacturing of parts, some green technologies may pollute and increase the greenhouse effect more than traditional energy sources.

This means that we need to invest in the least polluting technologies, both during the manufacturing of parts and operation, and combine them with technologies that, for example, capture CO2 from the environment and/or emission source. Technologies that are clean as they operate but have a great impact on the environment when they are manufactured (especially regarding emission of potent greenhouse gases) need more research before being widely adopted.

In addition, a thorough analysis of what our planet will look like after the full adoption of these technologies is of utmost importance so future generations are not left in a deadlock.

Below is a list of some of the pros and cons of different types of energy.

1. Biofuel Energy

Pros:

  • Made from different sources (ethanol, biodiesel, biomass, wood chips, municipal waste, among others)
  • Pollute less than fossil fuels during burning
  • Cheaper to produce than fossil fuels
  • Renewable energy source
  • Can be produced by any country

Cons:

  • Emissions include CO2, CO, and sulfur.
  • Biodiesel creates more nitrogen oxide than diesel from petroleum
  • Ashes from biofuels may contain harmful metals, such as cadmium and lead
  • A great amount of energy and water is necessary to grow crops, produce fertilizers and pesticides, and transform plants into biofuel.
  • Less efficient than fossil fuels
  • A great amount of the energy used to produce biofuels comes from fossil fuels
  • Although they have less carbon footprint, biofuels increase footprint through cultivation and harvest of crop, in addition to the destruction of forests for crop plantation
  • Currently, production costs are more than that of fossil fuel

2. Coal Energy

Pros:

  • It is abundant and inexpensive
  • “Clean coal” technology can remove harmful material before it reaches the environment

Cons:

  • There is impact on environment
  • Can potentially pollute the air, soil, and water bodies
  • The burning of coal emits CO2, SO2, toxic heavy metals, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury
  • “Clean Coal” involves costs
  • Coal source is finite
  • Byproducts of coal mining include arsenic, SO2, selenium, and mercury

3. Geothermal Energy

Pros:

  • Renewable resource
  • Creates smaller amounts of CO2 and sulfur components than fossil fuels
  • Great for heating and cooling
  • Its use does not burn fuels
  • Has small footprint on land
  • Reliable and predictable source of energy

Cons:

  • In extreme cases geothermal power plants may cause earthquakes
  • Heavy upfront costs
  • Sustainable only if reservoirs are properly managed

4. Hydropower

Pros:

  • Does not pollute water or air
  • Renewable, reliable, flexible

Cons:

  • Forces relocation of people and animals
  • May change the temperature and flow of water
  • May cause low level of dissolved oxygen in water
  • Disturb river habitats and fish populations
  • May create methane
  • Expensive
  • Affected by droughts

5. Petroleum Energy

Pros:

  • Mature technology
  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Drilling operation disrupts wildlife habitat
  • Impacts the landscape through the removal of vegetation and increase of erosion, which leads to landslides and floods
  • Emits CO2, CO,and other air pollutants
  • Methane is produced during fracking
  • Oil spills, urban runoffs, natural seeps have an impact on animals
  • Pollutes water
  • Improper disposal of oils
  • Non-renewable

6. Solar Energy

Pros:

  • Abundant, renewable, and sustainable source
  • Does not pollute the air or water
  • Available worldwide
  • Silent
  • Low maintenance

Cons:

  • High upfront investment
  • Intermittent
  • Solar panel production emits hexafluoroethane (C2F6), nitrogen trifluoride(NF3) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which are very potent greenhouse gases (based on a 100-year time horizon, their ability to trap extra heat in the atmosphere over time is about 12,200; 17,200; and 22,800 times more than that of CO2, respectively) [1]
  • Certain solar cells require expensive and rare materials, such as copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride (CdTe)
  • Requires large space

7. Nuclear Energy

Pros:

  • Insignificant carbon emissions
  • More efficient and reliable than fossil fuel
  • Low operating cost

Cons:

  • High environmental impact
  • Generates radioactive waste
  • Nuclear accidents can pose serious health effects
  • High startup costs
  • Uranium is a finite, non-renewable resource
  • Target for terrorist activities
  • Use high amounts of water for production of steam and system cooling
  • Wastewater from power plants may contain pollutants

8. Wind Energy

Pros:

  • Clean energy source
  • Does not pollute air or water
  • Renewable and sustainable energy
  • Fuel is free and available worldwide
  • Produces negligible air or water pollution. Turbine manufacturing and installation are the only process steps that emit greenhouse gases
  • Space efficient
  • Low operating costs
  • Great potential for powering homes

Cons:

  • Intermittent and unpredictable
  • May result in death of bats and birds
  • High upfront investment
  • Noise and visual pollution
  • Biological impacts

9. Tidal Energy

Pros:

  • Does not emit greenhouse gases
  • Renewable
  • Predictable
  • Effective even at low speeds
  • Long life span
  • Serves as coastal protection against dangerous tides generated during storms

Cons:

  • Environmental effects potentially similar to those of hydroelectric dams
  • Intermittent source of energy (~10 h/day)
  • May disturb natural movement/migration of fish
  • It is expensive and not cost-effective
  • Needs to be close to the shore
  • It is a new technology and requires more research and a large amount of funding
  • Currently cannot compete with fossil fuel energy

10a. Hydrogen Energy from Steam Methane Reforming

Pros:

  • Cheaper than hydrogen energy from electrolysis

Cons:

  • Emits CO2, NO2, and SO2, which pollute the air
  • Methane may leak to the atmosphere, leading to higher greenhouse effect than when CO2 is used
  • Less efficient than burning methane

10b. Hydrogen Energy from Electrolysis

Pros:

  • Low carbon technology if the electricity for electrolysis comes from renewable sources with low CO2 emission

Cons:

  • Less efficient than batteries
  • High carbon technology if the electricity for electrolysis comes from fossil fuels
  • Fuel cells efficiency is 40% - 60%

Sources:

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